I went to see Beauty and the Beast with an uneasy feeling. Like many my age, Disney films were a pivotal part of entertainment during my childhood, and Belle’s tale was watched many times in my household. Disney is a franchise I thoroughly enjoy, from the parks to the feel good films, the impeccable animation and beyond. Nonetheless, I was unsure what to expect from Beauty and the Beast.
Previous live action retellings left me wanting more. Maleficent was a nice watch with Angelina Jolie, and the story itself was decent, but there was still an overall feeling that something was missing. Cinderella didn’t even feel like the Disney classic being reimagined with modern day visuals. It was an astoundingly beautiful film to watch, but lacked a real enticing story to make it feel like more than just staring at a screen.
Beauty and the Beast took on what these films tried to accomplish and so much more. Belle and the Beast’s story is much more magical and fantasy-filled. There’s dancing silverware, and even one of the titular characters is anthropomorphic. How would this translate to live action? Would the story even be believable? There’s no easy way to answer this, but thankfully Beauty and the Beast makes up for its inability to suspend disbelief in other ways.
With a film as grand in scale as Beauty and the Beast, one of the film’s worst qualities comes from its CGI versions of beloved characters like Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere and Cogsworth. On the other hand, the CGI modeled Beast is one of the film’s highlights. It’s an unusual thing to watch; Disney nails it with believability when it comes to the Beast. Dan Stevens portrays him wonderfully, and the computer graphics insert him into the film as if he truly was the cursed prince. What went wrong with ancillary characters, though?
Compared to the lovable dinnerware that makes up some of the animated film’s best songs and scenes, Beauty and the Beast falls flat with its attempts to make the china and household objects come to life. With the rest of the imagery so lifelike and realistic, it’s next to impossible to believe your eyes when these CGI characters are on the screen. It’s a running nuisance through the film, but it would be next to impossible to retell this story without them. They’re a necessary eyesore, and I doubt even the most impressive graphic designer could come up with a better way to portray these characters in a live action setting. Disney may have missed the mark, but this was one mark that was pretty impossible to land in the first place.
While the underwhelming CGI is a running problem, it’s thankfully the only real fault to be found with the film. Emma Watson is stunning as Belle, and she has the acting chops to make all her scenes heartwarming and believable — even when she’s acting next to Dan Stevens in a ridiculous outfit to help animate the Beast’s body. It’s safe to say that Beauty and the Beast won’t be launching Watson’s singing career, but she brings life to Belle and the editing on her voice was done to good effect.
Stevens’ Beast is wonderfully overdramatic and a real emotional mess – just as he should be. The tension is palpable, and it’s easy to feel his internal struggle. The Beast is actually quite a fragile character underneath it all. He was a once spoiled prince doomed to a life of misery. No matter how much time has passed when Belle arrives, that’s something you don’t just bounce back from. His character transforms as the movie runs its course, and his eventual return to human form is a satisfying moment. He is no longer a beast in his actions or appearance, and Belle has changed him for the better in both his looks and his heart.
Luke Evans and Josh Gad bring some humor to the film as Gaston and LeFou respectively. In this imagining, Gaston is even somewhat pitiable towards the film’s start, with Belle rejecting his advances without offering a rhyme or reason. Those who have seen the animated version know Gaston is trouble, but the live action film makes Gaston more human. His motives are more calculating and hidden at first. As Belle turns him down multiple times, she comes across as somewhat rude. Nonetheless, Gaston powers on and quickly becomes more motivated to make Belle his own. As one would expect, he doesn’t take rejection well, and by the end of the film, he’s become the villain Beauty and the Beast needs to drive it to its climax.
LeFou steals the scenes he’s in, with his undying affection for Gaston revealed to be more than platonic. The way the film handles Gaston’s sexuality is tastefully done for such a sensitive subject — one that drew ire from homophobes. Gaston being gay is handled as it should be, in the sense that it’s not discussed at all. Gaston simply is gay, and whether other characters are oblivious or knowledgable to his sexuality, they don’t seem to care. Up until the last ten minutes of the film, one could even pretend Gaston was straight if they so desired. It’s not until he finds himself dancing with a man in drag that he finds his happiness and a way to get over Gaston. He’s happy, and when that moment comes, it’s easy to feel happy for him.
All in all, Beauty and the Beast would feel like nothing more than a live action copy of the animated film if not for key scenes added to give Belle’s past some more depth. The film expands on its fantasy base with a quasi-time-traveling side story that deals with the death of Belle’s mom and the importance of the rose. Those familiar with the original may find these newly added scenes surprising. While watching the film, it was hard to tell if their presence was warranted, but afterward it’s safe to say that they give Beauty and the Beast just what it needed to make it something more than the animated film reproduced with real people and pretty visuals.
It’s a tale as old as time, but Disney still manages to make Beauty and the Beast a breath of fresh air. The problematic CGI aside, the story is as well done in 2017 as it was in 1991. It has the strengths of both Cinderella and Maleficent before it, offering resplendent and impressive visuals along with a story that is truly engaging and enjoyable.
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